Eric the Playmaker

Determining how good of a playmaker someone is another thing that the advanced stats world has yet to really study in-depth. We always assume that most centers or elite players are great playmakers and have a positive effect on their linemates when they play together. This is something that we also assume of someone who always has a high assist total because he is apparently getting most of his points from setting up goals rather than scoring them. A player with a consistently high on-ice shooting percentage is also presumed to be a great playmaker because the team is constantly shooting at a high rate with him on the ice. Are these assumptions digging deep enough, though?

Eric T. of NHL Numbers wondered the same thing and did a massive study of how much some of the league’s best players really affected their teammate’s shooting percentage. He went through four years of NHL play-by-play data and determined how much of a player’s on-ice shooting percentage was being driven by a player’s personal shooting percentage, his teammates and his own playmaking skills. If you look at the article you’ll see some terrific work done to analyze the playmaking impact of players such as Henrik Sedin, Brad Richards, Ryan Getzlaf and many others but one name absent from this list is Eric Staal.

I think most people will agree that Staal is one of the better playmaking centers in the league. His on-ice shooting percentage isn’t always ridiculously high (save for the 2009-10 season) but he is always getting a ton of points from assists and he is a very skilled passer. I don’t think anyone can deny that Staal makes his teammates better and we know he does that going by the rate they control scoring chances when they play on his line, but it would be nice to know how much better they are in terms of goals. I’ve always wondered how many more goals a Carolina winger is more likely to score when he plays with Staal than he does when playing with someone like Jussi Jokinen or Tuomo Ruutu.

While we may not be able to find that out, what we can do is follow the steps that Eric T. did in his article and apply it to Eric Staal to see how much of an impact he had on his teammate’s shooting percentage. By doing this, we can see how many more goals his teammates scored with Staal than they would have by playing with someone who was just an average playmaker. A look at this data is coming after the jump.

Here’s a rundown of how the process works: I went through four years of NHL play-by-play data, noted how many times a player was on ice for a 5-on-5 shot with Eric Staal, how many goals they scored and compared it with their 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage with the Hurricanes during the four seasons. We then compare their shooting percentage during that time (aka the rate we expect them to shoot at) with their shooting percentage when they were playing with Staal (aka. actual shooting percentage). After that, we go through the entire list, and compare the two percentages to see how much the Carolina players really benefitted from playing with Staal. We can use that information to see how many extra goals they scored when playing with Staal and how much of their success was driven by Staal’s playmaking skills.

For instance, Erik Cole’s 5-on-5 shooting percentage with the Hurricanes was 12.6% overall and 14.2% when he played with Staal. These two were on-ice for 162 shots together so Cole scored approximately three more goals when he was playing with Staal on the Hurricanes. That may not sound like a lot at first glance, but three extra goals can make a pretty big difference in the long run, especially if Staal has been able to do the same with other players, which he has.

Top Five

Player Sh% w/Staal Total Shooting% Diff Goal Diff
LaRose 12.7% 8.5% 4.2% 6.94
Jokinen 19.3% 12.3% 7.0% 6.18
Cole 14.2% 12.4% 1.8% 2.99
Harrison 10.2% 7.0% 3.2% 1.59
Babchuk 9.7% 4.6% 5.1% 1.57

Sh% w/ Staal = player’s 5v5 shooting percentage when playing with Eric Staal, Total Shooting% = Player’s total 5v5 shooting percentage during the four years, Diff = Differential in shooting percentage, Goal Diff = The difference in goals he scored while playing with Staal.

Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen were the two players who benefited the most from playing with Staal. LaRose, who is typically a poor finisher otherwise, saw his 5v5 shooting percentage spike up to 12.7% when he was on a line with Staal. The helped add a little under seven 5v5 goals to his total during that time span. This is the one benefit the Hurricanes get from having LaRose on the top line. They get someone who can drive possession and he tends to be a better finisher when playing with Staal, as well. That or he gets really lucky when he is placed on this line, which could be possible because shooting percentages tend to work like that.

While LaRose saw his shooting percentage increase, it doesn’t stick out as much as Jokinen’s as he shot at nearly 20% when he played on a line with Eric Staal. Think about that. Over the last four seasons, Jokinen scored once almost every five times he shot the puck at five-on-five. That kind of rate shouldn’t sustain in the long-run but this is four years worth of data so it really makes you think about what would happen if Jokinen & Staal played together more often. Remember, these two were regular linemates during Jokinen’s 30-goal season and always seem to be a dangerous combination when they are playing together. This is why I have been an advocate of putting Jokinen on the first line as a winger even though he doesn’t shoot the puck much at all. Staal and Jokinen just strike gold in terms of shooting luck for whatever reason.

Bottom Five

Player Sh% w/Staal Total Shooting% Diff Goal Diff
Gleason 1.3% 2.6% -1.3% -0.97
Skinner 11.9% 13.2% -1.3% -1.07
Ruutu 9.6% 10.6% -1.0% -2.15
Stillman 4.2% 15.0% -10.8% -2.60
Samsonov 9.1% 11.4% -2.3% -2.75

In the bottom five we see two of Staal’s most regular linemates last season: Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner. It’s worth noting that they didn’t shoot at a terrible rate with Staal but they both saw their percentage drop a little bit and Ruutu ended up scoring two fewer goals than he “should” have because of it. There was some talk during the year about Skinner and Staal not developing enough chemistry and this might be where the talks stem from. Despite being able to drive the play better than most of Carolina’s other lines, they weren’t scoring as much as they could have. I still want them to play on the same line at some point, though. The team has a better top-six now so that should open up some more options as far as line combinations go. 

Stillman’s large drop is probably due to a small sample size of games played with the Hurricanes as he was only with the team (during the last four years) when they traded for him at the 2011 deadline. He played a lot of minutes with Eric Staal then and you could see that the shooting percentage gods had it in for him, apparently. Samsonov is a more interesting case because he, historically, has been one of the team’s best players at creating scoring chances. You would think that he would be able to reap the benefits of playing with a center like Staal but his shooting percentage dropped while he was on his line.


Now that we have gone into the specific players, let’s take a look at the overall picture. How much have the Canes, as a whole, benefited from Staal’s playmaking skills. Using Eric T’s formula, we can find that out.

As a team, the Canes shot at 9.1 percent when playing with Eric Staal, that is 1.4% higher than their “expected” shooting percentage, so that’s how much they benefited from his playmaking skills. However, their the team’s shooting percentage dropped to 8.9% when you factor in Staal’s own shots, so his shooting percentage had a negative effect of 0.2%. The rest of his on-ice shooting percentage comes from his teammates. So, you get this formula when you look at all the factors in Staal’s on-ice shooting percentage.

Percentage Goals Added
League Avg. 8.2
Playmaking 1.4 37.912
Shooting -0.2 -5.416
Teammates -0.5 -13.54
Total 8.9 18.956

Staal’s play-making skills alone added a little more than 37 goals, his own shooting percentage cost the Hurricanes a little more than five goals while his teammates cost the team a little more than 13 goals when playing at five-on-five. Add all of that together and the Hurricanes scored a little fewer than 19 goals over the last four years when Staal was on the ice. That factors to about 4.739 goals per season, a number that is a little higher than Brad Richards’ if you refer to Eric T’s list.

The Hurricanes are lucky to have a player like Staal on the team as you can see that he has made most of his linemates better over the years and has had a very positive impact on them despite not playing with the most talented group of wingers. It’s also interesting to look at how Staal’s personal shooting percentage brought the total value down because with the exception of last season, he manages to get 25-30 goals with relative ease. Although, this may not be terribly surprising when you consider how much he shoots the puck and that he had double-digit goals on the powerplay in three of the last four years. Staal is a good goal-scorer but it’s possible that he isn’t as good as some may think, especially compared to his play-making skills.

That being said, we can come to a conclusion that Staal has been one of the best playmakers in the NHL over the last four seasons. It will be exciting to see what kind of impact he has if he ends up playing all of next season with a more skilled winger like Alexander Semin.